Disney’s Live-Action ‘Mulan’: 6 Big Changes from the 1998 Animated Hit
The live-action remake about the legendary Chinese female warrior is vastly different from the beloved 1998 Disney animated feature.
No Li Shang, no Mushu, and no Donny Osmond singing that he’ll make a man out of you either.
When Disney released the first image from its highly-anticipated live-action Mulan revealing Chinese singer-actress Crystal Liu Yifei as the titular character in 2018, the studio also stated that the film will be based on the 4th Century narrative poem, “The Ballad of Mulan”, more than its hit 1998 animated feature.
Truth be told, that's not exactly a bad thing as the original premise of a young Chinese girl who masquerades as a male soldier to enlist on her ailing father’s behalf remains the same. However, fans of the Oscar-nominated Mulan who were hoping for a frame-for-frame reboot—a la the successful live-action Beauty and the Beast (2017), a remake of the 1991 animated classic—should brace themselves for some big changes in the new Mulan.
The 2020 version nonetheless boasts a stellar cast. Besides Liu—who was picked out of nearly 1,000 candidates to play the coveted leading role after a year-long search across five continents—the live-action Mulan also includes Chinese superstars the likes of Gong Li, Donnie Yen and Jet Li (who plays the Chinese Emperor), as well as veteran Asian-American actors such as Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao and Jason Scott Lee.
Here are six big character and plot changes you should expect in Disney’s live-action reboot of Mulan:
1. No Li Shang but a New Rival & Love Interest
Mulan fans caused an uproar when it was first reported that Captain Li Shang, Mulan’s army superior-turned-love interest, has been dropped for a new character named Chen Honghui. Then again, the man who ends up as Mulan’s suitor is usually a differently named character in past live-action productions. According to a 2017 Mulan casting notice, Chen is a “strapping, cocky and handsome” recruit who first become Mulan’s main rival, before becoming her ally and possibly love interest. Playing the character is relative newcomer Yoson An, a New Zealander whose film credits include The Meg and Mega Time Squad.
2. No Shan Yu but Two New Villains
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Gong Li (Farewell My Concubine), one of China’s best and most well-known actresses, plays a powerful witch named Xian Niang. This is definitely a new villain as there is neither a witch in the 1998 film–where the main villain is Shan Yu, chief of the Hun army–nor in other cinematic Hua Mulan productions for that matter. Gong Li however played a villainous character, the White Bone Demon, to perfection in the Hong Kong action fantasy film, Monkey King 2 (2016), so it's no surprise that Disney courted her to play a baddie in Mulan. Menacingly playing the other new villain, Bori Khan, who invades China with his marauding Northern army so to avenge his father's death, is Jason Scott Lee of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story fame.
3. No Mushu but a New Mentor
Mushu the dragon (brilliantly voiced by Eddie Murphy) is one of the best characters in the original Mulan. To be fair, unless Disney instills a very realistic CGI dragon a la Game of Thrones, it will be tough to produce a live-action Mushu. Thus, Mulan has a new mentor in the form of a new character, Commander Tung, played by martial arts star Donnie Yen, best known for his Ip Man film series and as the blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Also in the new film, the lady warrior will have a guardian angel in the form of a mythical phoenix.
4. Cricket is now a Human Character
There's no Mushu but Cricket, his lucky bug companion, made it to the new film, albeit not as a tiny green creature but as a new human character. Played by California-born actor Jun Yu (Fresh Off The Boat), the new Cricket is a weak-willed greenhorn often made fun of and bullied by his fellow soldiers, namely Yao (Chen Tung), Ling (Jimmy Wong) and Po (Doua Moua). However, the young lad would eventually prove himself to be just as lucky as his animated counterpart, judging by his escapades on the battlefield.
5. A Younger Sister for Mulan
In Hua Mulan stories of old, the feisty warrior often has an older sister—and even a younger brother—but that was not the case for the animated feature. In the new film, Mulan will have a younger sister played by New Zealand-born, Chinese-Vietnamese actress Xana Tang (Filthy Rich), pictured above with veteran American actress Rosalind Chao (M*A*S*H, The Joy Luck Club) who plays their mother.
6. No Classic 'Mulan' Songs… Except for the One in the End Credits
The million dollar question that Mulan fans kept asking was whether the beloved songs from the 1998 film will make it to the live-action adaptation. The answer is an emphatic "no" as the 2020 film is a serious epic wuxia (Mandarin for "martial arts") adaptation of the Chinese legend. However, besides the stirring new Mulan theme song entitled "Loyal Brave True," Grammy-winning songstress Christina Aguilera has also recorded a brand new rendition of the emotional classic, "Reflection," that launched her stellar musical career way back when. The track can be heard in the end credits, followed by Liu Yifei’s soulful Mandarin version.
And whilst it's a shame that other endearing Mulan tunes such as “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” “Honor to Us All,” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” don't get any airing in the new film, some key lyrics from the songs do sip into the dialogue, while familiar melodies can also be heard in the score.
So, yes, expect much differences in 2020's Mulan from the beloved 1998 animated gem. But songs or no songs, a film that tells the inspiring story of the brave Chinese girl who became a national hero is always something to look forward to. Do check it out.
For a cinematic history of the legendary Chinese warrior, read: * From Silent Movies to Disney Musicals: A Cinematic History of Lady Warrior Hua Mulan
Disney’s live-action 'Mulan', which premiered on 4 September 2020, is streaming on Disney+ and showing in cinemas worldwide in regions without the streaming platform.